Kyrie Irving has been put under the microscope recently because of his trade to the Boston Celtics.
Irving, once considered one of the brightest prospects in the NBA, is being criticized for not having proven he can lead a team on his own and not being a natural facilitator. While the first point is still up for discussion, the latter argument has been a recurring theme in the star point guard’s young career. But in today’s NBA landscape, it’s not necessarily a negative.
In his six NBA seasons, the Australia-born guard has never averaged over 6 assists in a season. Last season alone, he averaged 5.8 assists (with 2.5 turnovers) on a Cleveland team built on spreading the floor.
While it’s true that LeBron James was utilized as a point forward a lot, that assist number is low for a starting point guard on a championship caliber team. For comparison, John Wall averaged 10.7 assists, Russell Westbrook averaged 10.4 assists, James Harden averaged 11.2 assists, and Chris Paul averaged 9.2 assists.
It’s indisputable that Irving likes the ball in his hands. Irving was the sixth player in the NBA with the most offensive isolations during the regular season, and the player with the most isolations in the post-season. Most of the other top names on those lists are also the NBA’s top point guards, with the exception of Steph Curry.
The game is evolving.
Instead of simply facilitating for others, point guards are now also asked to carry their team’s scoring load. Going back through NBA history, game winning shots were first put in the hands of big men like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Larry Bird. Shooting guards like Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant took preference in the early 2000s. Now, it’s the likes of Kyrie Irving who are entrusted with clutch shots.
Although today’s NBA is more and more being based on positionless basketball, three point shooting and mobility, there is always the need for a player who can get hot and propel their team to a win. The need for this could increase in Boston given their defensive frailties.
Irving scored on nearly 50% of his isolations, while putting up a 53.2% effective field goal percentage. He’s shown in the past that he can come up big when needed despite the other weaknesses to his game. No one in the NBA has the ability to finish shots around the basket like Irving, a highly valuable skill in the playoffs when every team begins playing at 100%.
Irving does not fit the protoypical point guard mold, but few truly do anymore. He’s not perfect, but there are few players as decisive as Kyrie Irving, and that alone makes him an incredibly valuable asset.